On December 29 border guards in East Kazakhstan arrested four people — two citizens of Uzbekistan, one citizen of Russia, and one citizen of Tajikistan — for allegedly attempting to smuggle 17 kilograms of heroin into Russia. Seizures of heroin bound for Russia are a common border security threat in Kazakhstan, but combating this problem effectively places substantial strain on local authorities, as they struggle to monitor the activities of drug smuggling cartels operating in or transiting through Kazakh territory.
Kazakhstan’s border services, working under operational control of the National Security Service (KNB), are often anxious to appear capable of dealing with such crimes and threats. On January 3 the KNB press service announced that border security officers at the Auyil checkpoint had arrested the four suspects, who were traveling in a foreign vehicle from Kazakhstan into Russia. The officers found the contraband hidden inside a gas cylinder in the trunk of the vehicle, after it was searched with the assistance of sniffer dogs and x-ray machines. The suspects were handed over to the local KNB branch (Interfax-Kazakhstan, January 3). While releasing the information about this specific case, the KNB press service also added that a border service unit at the Merke checkpoint in Zymbal Region had detained a Kazakh citizen traveling from Kyrgyzstan with around one kilogram of marijuana concealed under the back seat of his vehicle.
The outcome was the same in both cases – the suspects were captured by border service personnel and handed to the KNB to conduct the investigation, rather than the local police. Administratively, it appears the KNB has jurisdiction in drug smuggling cases of varying sizes and range of importance. The KNB’s image is thus advanced as the dominant agency actively involved in government efforts to tackle drug smuggling.
Kazakhstan’s lengthy, porous border with Russia has remained an ongoing security concern, and various cooperative security measures have sought to bring together the border services and, by definition, the intelligence agencies of both countries. The Kazakh and Russian border services have recently devised a new system to help rural residents of Kostanay Region who make use of the simplified Russian-Kazakh border checkpoints. Starting in early January 2008 procedures at these checkpoints will be carried out only once instead of the regular two-step procedure. This local breakthrough emerged as a result of talks between the heads of border services at a meeting in Troitsk in Chelyabinsk Region, Russia.
The decision to simplify the process supplies an intriguing insight into Kazakh security thinking and planning. Having assessed the situation at these checkpoints, the border guards agreed that the Russian and Kazakh border services have sufficient grounds to trust each other, allowing them to reduce the time involved in conducting border inspections by allowing only one side to carry out the task, instead of duplicating each other’s work. They may rotate the manning of a single checkpoint or place a single checkpoint under Russian or Kazakh control (Karavan, December 28). The message seems clear: Kazakhstan can trust Russia’s border guards.
For Astana it is an attractive choice. Moscow is upgrading its facilities near the shared border. For example, Russia announced on December 27 that the regional border guard directorate of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) for the Urals Federal District will use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to monitor the border. “It is planned that unmanned aerial vehicles for monitoring the situation on the border will be delivered in the first quarter of 2008. Vehicles of this kind have a flight range of up to 500 km, a video camera and a system for relaying information to the duty service,” acting chief of the directorate Alexander Kostyuchenkov explained. The directorate will receive three vehicle-mounted UAVs, similar to those in use in the North Caucasus. Moscow plans to gradually introduce UAVs into all border guard directorates in the country to be used in conjunction with the GLONASS satellite system. “Even now, border guard patrols in the North Caucasus carry with them equipment that can help them find out where they are and display the route, while the command can locate where the patrol is at this moment, what it is doing, and in what direction it is moving,” Kostyuchenkov said. “We used to have UAZ-3151 vehicles, but now UAZ Patriot and Mitsubishi Okapi vehicles are entering into service, and they are specially equipped with thermal-vision devices, radio transceivers and video cameras. The new equipment will help us monitor the situation on the border remotely” (Interfax-Kazakhstan, December 27).
Russia’s federally targeted program for Urals Federal District envisages building more than 50 facilities on the border with Kazakhstan before 2010. These will include infrastructure facilities, blocs of apartments for employees, and an administrative center. Currently the regional border guard directorate of the FSB for the Urals Federal District covers nine Russian-Kazakh border checkpoints and more than 10 aerial checkpoints.
At the same time, Kazakh officials are quick to note their country’s self-sufficiency. On the other hand, Kanat Saudabayev, Kazakhstan’s state secretary, has boasted that the country’s GDP is higher than that of the combined GDP of the other countries in Central Asia and the south Caucasus. During the years of independence, “everything necessary for an independent state has been created in Kazakhstan; the country’s integrity and stability has been ensured; fundamental reforms have been carried out in the economy and foundations have been created for its all-round development in compliance with the latest world tendencies and for its powerful boost,” the state secretary said on January 3. (Interfax-Kazakhstan, January 3).
Despite what Saudabayev describes as a buoyant economy growing by around 10% annually since 2000, possessing gold and currency reserves of $40 billion, and attracting over $70 billion in foreign investment, the country continues to demand sponsorship of its major security programs from Western states. In recent years Washington has channeled several million dollars into Kazakhstan’s border security, while its government clearly can afford to increase its spending on border security. The nexus and apparent “trust” existing between Kazakhstan’s border service and their northern counterparts, combined with the use of Russian UAVs, suggests enduring an security reliance on Russia.